Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Common Core Brought Attention To The Math Education Debate

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

wwworks / Flickr

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

One of the by-products of states around the country adopting Common Core is that the standards have brought attention to long-running education debates that aren’t about money or testing.

This week our story looked at how Miami-Dade schools are changing math lessons to teach Florida’s Common Core-based math standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade — such as kindergarteners being able to count to 100.

As we noted in the story, many of these “new” techniques schools are adding have been around a while. And math educators have spent years debating the best ways to teach math.

Journalist Elizabeth Green cataloged what some argue are deficiencies in math education in a New York Times Magazine story headlined: “Why Do Americans Stink At Math?”

She describes a Japanese classroom, where students were encouraged to discover on their own: “Taught this new way, math itself seemed transformed. It was not dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even fun.”

Barry Garelick was so unhappy with what he was seeing in his daughter’s math lessons that he started teaching himself after retiring from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Garelick says the disadvantages of Common Core far outweigh any benefits. He responds to Green and lays out his case here:

The article is extremely well-written, which I suppose is why many people reading it (including the editors) find her arguments reasonable and would unquestioningly buy into the rather tall premise her article is built on: traditional math teaching has never worked. That’s simply not true.

But Green is not alone in mischaracterizing traditional teaching. Railing against it is fairly prevalent, and she stalwartly continues this tradition, including reciting the tired old canard of rote memorization (e.g., “having students memorize and then practice endless lists of equations”). She provides examples of math innumeracy amongst students and adults, thus focusing on failures while neglecting to investigate or even mention people for whom the traditional method of teaching did work. Such people are apparently aberrations (and that would include me).

Garelick has written a series of articles pulling apart what the Common Core standards will mean for math education. You can read them here.

The Brookings Institution compiled a list of “six myths” about math education in Green’s story, including survey data which shows American students enjoy math, and that Japanese students spend a lot of time on math outside school.

Much of the debate focuses on when and how students should be taught what’s known as the standard algorithm — the traditional method for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing multi-digit numbers.

Most Common Core critics argue teachers should place more emphasis on the standard algorithm and argue the standards wait too long before teaching the method most Americans know best.

Jason Zimba, one of the architects of the Common Core standards, has weighed in. Zimba says the standards do not have hard and fast rules about how and what to include in math lessons.

Zimba says if a teacher were to teach nothing but the standard algorithm then that could still adhere to the Common Core standards. But the standards do require additional concepts, such as algebra. If he were teaching, Zimba says he would lay the groundwork for the standard algorithm early in elementary school.

“As this discussion of just a single slice of the math curriculum illustrates,” Zimba concludes, “teachers and curriculum authors following the standards still may, and still must, make an enormous range of decisions.”

Comments

  • Jason Zimba

    The summary of my article given here is rather garbled. If this issue interests you, then I would recommend you click the link provided in the article and read my article on commoncoretools.

    By the way, the Common Core first mentions the standard algorithm in grade 4, which is reasonable in view of the fact that the previous California standards also mentioned the standard algorithm first in grade 4.

    As noted accurately in the above piece, I would recommend beginning instrucdtion in it before grade 4, and my article shows one way to do this. In fact, my article sketches a model, aligned to the standards, in which no other algorithms are taught besides the standard algorithm.

    Best,
    Jason Zimba

    • Marvi Hagopian

      So, here you have it America, the perfect example of “the experts” turning a deaf ear to parents, the people who will be held responsible for their children’s failures, taxpayers, and voters. The same problems are happening in English language arts. Linda Darling Hammond led the last whole language
      fiasco that placed California 49th on NAEP before we got our now defunct
      world-class standards and frameworks. Less than 40% of our children were
      reading at grade level back then. Parents were blamed; children were
      blamed; socioeconomic situations were blamed. All blame misdirected
      from the real cause of the problem. Worse yet, we believed “the experts”
      because we trusted the system; we loved our schools, principals, and
      teachers. We were individually led to believe it was only our child having
      problems when in truth it was statewide. Now Linda Darling Hammond is
      foisting whole language on the entire nation.

      We were a middle-class family. My husband taught mathematics at California State University. I hold a life teaching credential in California. I am qualified to teach physical education, science, and English language arts. My son was one of the casualties of whole language in the 80’s and early 90’s. From the time he entered school I tried to get the school to pay attention to my son’s
      needs. I knew he wasn’t learning to read and I was deeply concerned.

      I was informed the school knew what was best for my son on the day I delivered some research papers on reading to my son’s resource teacher. When my son was 13, reading barely at the first-grade level and unable to write a complete sentence, I was told it was my fault; I didn’t read to him
      enough. It was his fault: he didn’t pay attention in class. In an IEP meeting I was told the expectations for my 6th-grade son (he had been held back in first grade), were he would become a juvenile delinquent and a high school drop out.

      Fast forward just one year from the date of that dreadful meeting. My son’s reading comprehension was at the 9th-grade level and he was writing full-page essays. How did this happen? I pulled my son out of my neighborhood school and placed him in a private school with teachers that knew how to teach reading. My son graduated from UC Santa Barbara and is a very successful entrepreneur in southern California.

      I learned it wasn’t our fault. It was whole language. Over 50 years of research by the National Institute of Child Health and Development has determined the best ways to teach reading. Between 1995 and 2003 low performing schools in California following NICHD guidelines raised students’ test scores from only 20-30% of students scoring at or above grade level to over 80%. Yet our current Department of Education has chosen to ignore NICHD findings. Linda Darling Hammond led the failed reading experiment in California and now she leads the national effort.

      Please kindly allow me additional comments. Last week I read through the recently released PARCC sample test questions. First, I am wondering where I might find test questions on spelling and grammar standards. Second, I noticed the words students read are mostly first-grade level words. For instance, let’s look at this sentence from the 3rd-grade test:

      Dad gets everyone to work together to make it safely back to shore.

      The Flesch-Kincaid readability level of the sentence above is 4.8. “Great!” you might say. “The score is above grade level.”

      I say, “Look at the words in this sentence. Most are 1st-grade words. A fluent 1st grader would most likely be able to read and understand this sentence. It is easy to manipulate the system and it looks like Pearson and the test writers have taken great advantage of this fact. Clearly someone wants as many children as possible to read and pass the test. There seems to be little regard for world-class standards and expectations.

      It is easy to manipulate the system. Readability levels are determined by word and sentence length, as well as text complexity; sentences with colons or semicolons add complexity. I got a real kick out of this not so academic answer on the 6th-grade exam:

      Thousands of other zoo animals throughout the world have been moved into new homes that replaced the old, cramped cages in which they lived before.

      The Flesch-Kincaid readability level of the sentence above is 10.2. With the exception of the word “Thousands,” the words in the sentence could easily be read by a fluent end-of-the-year 1st grader or first trimester 2nd grader. (BTW whatever happened to never end a sentence with a preposition?)

      Let’s see what happens when we improve the writing. The two sentences below have a readability level of 5.3:

      Thousands of zoo animals throughout the world have been moved. New homes replaced the old, cramped cages in which they previously lived.

      After another tweak, we have two sentences with a readability level of 3.0:

      Zoo animals throughout the world have been moved. New homes replaced their old, cramped cages.

      Because I have grandchildren in elementary schools where whole language has returned with a vengeance, I am taking it upon myself to teach them to read. I have two kindergarteners already reading and spelling better than my son did at age 13. I am a life-long democrat, a party that claims to be science oriented and a champion of the socioeconomically poor.

      Obama’s administration has chosen to ignore the science and taken steps that will most likely widen the gaps between haves and have-nots. What saddens me most is that most people will be left in the dark never knowing or understanding why their children are having trouble learning to read or excelling at math.

      The PARCC sample test questions can be found at http://bit.ly/1ACzukC
      for math and http://bit.ly/1vwAQMA for English language arts. You might want to also refer to the PARCC bulletin at http://bit.ly/1zY60fK.

  • GeorgeTyrebyter

    The problems with CCSSM aren’t in the content standards which, I understand, are primarily due to the work of McCallum (a math professor) and Zimba (mathematical physics). It’s the math pedagogy sections which I understand Phil Daro (BA English, UC Berkeley) are responsible for that read remarkably like the 1992 Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools that Daro directed two decades earlier. The ’92 Framework disaster resulted in California being flooded with constructivist or “whole” math starting in ’95 and the resulting rhetoric, both in the sales pitches from believers and the complaints from parents and professionals who were competent in math and math based disciplines are so similar to the complaints today they could be carbon copies, right down to the claims of deeper understanding and that it’s the way they teach in Japan. Yes, their public schools have a contemplative, conceptual bent but that’s just their Dr. Jekyll to their Mr. Hydes who are running their juku, cram schools, that really are the drill and kill from hell that American educators like to caricature.

    The six myths has it exactly right, and the whole math true believers at my son’s original public elementary school did everything right. The district superintendent was gung ho, the principals and the teachers did preservice and inservice training for the new way to teach according (like with Daro’s CCSSM Standards for Mathematical Practice) to the NCTM Standards.
    http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

    This “new” way of teaching math was an utter disaster in California two decades ago and there’s every expectation in many quarters it will be an abject failure now… the difference being it’s coast to coast in virtually every school.

    NPR, math professors in California such as Stanford’s Jim Milgram, CSULA’s Wayne Bishop or CSUN’s David Klein can point out case after case where discovery math programs tanked and traditional programs succeeded after this experiment was tried in the past, and they can also point to the way out of the mess, which for California was content standards even better than the McCallum/Zimba effort (which isn’t bad), a competent textbook review process and the use of real, nationally normed and vetted assessments that had a track record… in fact, the SAT9 that California first turned to in the state STAR exams to turn around the Daro Disaster v 1.0 was the same SAT9 my son’s St.Sensible gave to him when he first walked in the door in the 2nd grade two years earlier.

    What had been my son’s class ended up with half the kids in the bottom quartile by the SAT9 results in math and language, despite it being a far too lily white, 100% English speaking classroom. A neighboring district that tossed Mathland out the window after a month in favor of Saxon (a more traditional program that I don’t particularly like due to its spoonfeeding), with the same basic demographics, had virtually all their kids in the upper two quartiles for the same test.

    I expect the coming train wreck to be very ugly. We got around it 20 years ago by sending our son to a parochial school (no, I’m not even Christian) but with virtually everything being cast in the Common Core image, there won’t be many places to hide this time.

  • http://jukuyobiko.blogspot.jp Manabu Watanabe

    Japan’s objection to “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” – the NY Times
    http://jukuyobiko.blogspot.jp/2014/08/big-doubts-on-ny-times-article-why-do.html

    • GeorgeTyrebyter

      Manabu, my next door neighbors when my son was getting Mathlanded were a mixed Japanese and American couple… the mom remained a Japanese national and her parents were very well off teachers in Tokyo who both moonlighted in their own juku. The horrible whole math and whole language their kids and mine found in the local elementary school did not phase her… she expected the school to be mostly useless except for socialization and when her kids got home from school the real lessons began.

      In short, I believe they agreed with you 100%.

      We all laughed at the pointless math lessons being relied upon to generate real “mathematical power”, a catch phrase of Daro’s ’92 Framework, devoid of any challenging mathematics.

      I remember one math lesson in my son’s first grade… a coloring book exercise. Anthropomorphic animals in a school bus (students and the driver), visible through the open windows and doors… the math content being to count the animals and color the page; that was the math of the day. My son could count to six by the time he was in nursery school and that was a waste of the day’s lesson time.

      Their kids did fine by the mom’s lessons, ours did fine in another school that intentionally ignored the NTCM vision Daro shared. Where do kids go for another school when the whole state, the whole country, has gone bonkers?

      • http://jukuyobiko.blogspot.jp Manabu Watanabe

        I’m relieved to find people, including you, not convinced
        by the NY Times article, but I’m afraid that there are still many people who
        have taken it for granted that the NY Times is correct. Although I’m not in the
        position to fuss about American education, what I worry about is that the
        reputation in the US often has repercussion in other countries including Japan.

        By the way, I also wrote about the background in which
        this article was made:

        Pitfalls of Japanese Education Studies 1-3
        http://jukuyobiko.blogspot.jp/2014/12/pitfalls-of-japanese-education-studies-1.html

        Please read it, if you are interested.

        P.S. Public school teachers are not allowed to moonlight and work in jukus in Japan now. Although there used to be schoolteachers in jukus, the Ministry of Education drove them away from jukus a few decades ago with a view to derail juku business. However, the business has flourished since them.

  • Marvi Hagopian

    So, here you have itAmerica, the perfect example of “the experts” turning a deaf ear toparents, the people who will be held responsible for their children’s
    failures, taxpayers, and voters. The same problems are happening in
    English language arts. Linda Darling Hammond led the last whole language
    fiasco that placed California 49th on NAEP before we got our now defunct
    world-class standards and frameworks. Less than 40% of our children were
    reading at grade level back then. Parents were blamed; children were
    blamed; socioeconomic situations were blamed. All blame misdirected
    from the real cause of the problem. Worse yet, we believed “the experts”
    because we trusted the system; we loved our schools, principals, and
    teachers. We were individually led to believe it was only our child having
    problems when in truth it was statewide. Now Linda Darling Hammond is
    foisting whole language on the entire nation.

    We were a middle-class family. My husband taught mathematics at California State University. I hold a life teaching credential in California. I am qualified to teach
    physical education, science, and English language arts. My son was one of the casualties of whole language in the 80’s and early 90’s. From the time he entered school I tried to get the school to pay attention to my son’s needs. I knew he wasn’t learning to read and I was deeply concerned.

    I was informed the school knew what was best for my son on the day I delivered
    some research papers on reading to my son’s resource teacher. When my son was 13, reading barely at the first-grade level and unable to write a complete sentence, I was told it was my fault; I didn’t read to him enough. It was his fault: he didn’t pay attention in class. In an IEP meeting I was told the expectations for my 6th-grade son (he had been held back in first grade), were he would become a juvenile delinquent and a high school drop out.

    Fast forward just one year from the date of that dreadful meeting. My son’s reading comprehension was at the 9th-grade level and he was writing full-page essays. How did this happen? I pulled my son out of my neighborhood school and placed him in a
    private school with teachers that knew how to teach reading. My son graduated from UC Santa Barbara and is a very successful entrepreneur in southern California.

    I learned it wasn’t our fault. It was whole language. Over 50 years of research by the National Institute of Child Health and Development has determined the best ways to teach reading. Between 1995 and 2003 low performing schools in California following
    NICHD guidelines raised students’ test scores from only 20-30% of students scoring at or above grade level to over 80%. Yet our current Department of Education has chosen to ignore NICHD findings. Linda Darling Hammond led the failed reading experiment in California and now she leads the national effort.

    Please allow me additional comments. Last week I read through the recently released PARCC sample test questions. First, I am wondering where I might find test questions on spelling and grammar standards. Second, I noticed the words students read
    are mostly first-grade level words. For instance, let’s look at this sentence from the 3rd-grade test:

    Dad gets everyone to work together to make it safely back to shore.

    The Flesch-Kincaid readability level of the sentence above is 4.8. “Great!” you might say. “The score is above grade level.”

    I say, “Look at the words in this sentence. Most are 1st-grade words. A fluent 1st grader would most likely be able to read and understand this sentence. It is easy to
    manipulate the system and it looks like Pearson and the test writers have taken great advantage of this fact. Clearly someone wants as many children as possible to read and pass the test. There seems to be little regard for world-class standards and expectations.

    It is easy to manipulate the system. Readability levels are determined by word and sentence length, as well as text complexity; sentences with colons or semicolons add
    complexity. I got a real kick out of this not so academic answer on the 6th-grade exam:

    Thousands of other zoo animals throughout the world have been moved into new homes that replaced the old, cramped cages in which they lived before.

    The Flesch-Kincaid readability level of the sentence above is 10.2. With the exception of the word “Thousands,” the words in the sentence could easily be read by a fluent end-of-the-year 1st grader or first trimester 2nd grader. (BTW whatever happened to never end a sentence with a preposition?)

    Let’s see what happens when we improve the writing. The two sentences below have a readability level of 5.3:

    Thousands of zoo animals throughout the world have been moved. New homes replaced the old, cramped cages in which they previously lived.

    After another tweak, we have two sentences with a readability level of 3.0:

    Zoo animals throughout the world have been moved. New homes replaced their old, cramped cages.

    Because I have grandchildren in elementary schools where whole language has returned with a vengeance, I am taking it upon myself to teach them to read. I have two kindergarteners already reading and spelling better than my son did at age 13. I am a life-long democrat, a party that claims to be science oriented and a champion of the socioeconomically poor.

    Obama’s administration has chosen to ignore the science and taken steps that will most likely widen the gaps between haves and have-nots. What saddens me most is that most people will be left in the dark never knowing or understanding why their
    children are having trouble learning to read or excelling at math.

    The PARCC sample test questions can be found at http://bit.ly/1ACzukC
    for math and http://bit.ly/1vwAQMA for English language arts. You might want to also refer to the PARCC bulletin at http://bit.ly/1zY60fK.

    • GeorgeTyrebyter

      While the message was interesting, it was very poor form to post it in two places and it was particularly poor form to put it as a reply to Dr. Zimba as it really had nothing to do with his comments.

      As long as I’ve a post open, I’ll toss in the Loveless “Six Myths” section that make my opposition to the CCSSM particularly clear:
      “Unfortunately, the Common Core—and in particular the Standards for
      Mathematical Practice—contain enough short-hand terms related to
      constructivist pedagogy that, when heard by the true believers of
      inquiry-based math reform, can be taken as license for the imposition of
      their ideology on teachers.

      In its one-sided support for a particular style of math instruction,
      Elizabeth Green’s article acts as a megaphone for these dog whistles,
      the misguided notions that, although seemingly innocuous to most people,
      are packed with meaning for partisans of inquiry-based learning.
      Green’s article is based on bad science, bad history, and unfortunate
      myths that will lead us away from, rather than closer to, the
      improvement of math instruction in the United States.”

      That’s Phil Daro for you. It’s interesting to note that, in his Berkeley career Daro was first a physics major, then a math major but he graduated as an English major. Perhaps someone in the know can reveal how he got the post of Chairman for the CCSS in Math (until the uproar in 2011 that a mathematical nothing was the chair of the CCSSM).

      • Marvi Hagopian

        I agree and apologize to the writer and readers of this article and Jason Zimba regarding the double post. When I saw I had accidentally posted a reply to his response, I tried to delete it, but couldn’t figure out how to do so.

  • Concerned Parent

    I am a parent of a child in elementary school. I am very disappointed in the math of common core in the way teachers at some schools or most (not sure) have children sit in circles or in groups to “talk math.” Some leaders are more familiar with Disney movies and become the expert in the group due to their leadership skills verses their math knowledge or understanding.

    I believe it is correct that parent voice is small and districts do what they want (also very few parents speak out, maybe 3 percent a year or less in my opinion). I believe the old math from 20 years ago is being tried to be brought in rewrapped and gifted again to our students and parents, and this new method of teaching math is regressive and not good for children. The way the math coaches or school leaders are teaching it is bad. The students are not challenged and the weekly tests are two years behind what is being taught, so, in my opinion, the publishers of some products want high inflated grades to make all happy when the new tough and challenging state testing called Smarter Balance is, I have read, very challenging.

    The thing that bothers me most is that I believe the children are being used in some kind of test as some kind of test subjects with a new kind of math that is going to hinder them in learning. I also believe that the teachers need to speak out more and they are silent for some reason I do not understand. Maybe it is good and solid to tie teacher reviews to all new common core math and test materials because if not, no one will speak out about this disaster.

    Concerned Parent

  • randy dom

    ca best tech in california

    California

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